This might sound strange, but I actually dread writing recaps (or whatever I end up writing) after games like Wednesday’s. For those who experienced, there really is not much I can say that captures it and everyone has their own special version of what it felt like. For those who did not watch it, as much as I wish I could, it is just impossible to capture how special it was. And my usual bit of hashing through details/analysis like I usually try to do just misses the point. And as a hobbyist type writer, I have not once felt like I did a good job of capturing the essence of a game like Wednesday’s.
Nonetheless, I will give it the old college try to at least put a record here that I can look back on years down the road.
The fan side of the game
First a few Tweets:
1/2 I am so incredibly happy for the generation of @NHLCanes fans who lived through lean times with no playoff rewards and are finally experiencing the greatness that Canes playoff hockey is. #TakeWarning
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) April 25, 2019
2/2 The droughts have been too many, too long and sometimes hard, but each and every time @NHLCanes have made the playoffs has been special beyond anything you can explain to someone who did not also share it. #TakeWarning
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) April 25, 2019
I think I am still in shock.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) April 25, 2019
Some day down the road when the Hurricanes hopefully have many more playoff series wins and a couple more Stanley Cup Championships to their credit, this Canes/Caps series will still be talked about as being an incredibly special series. The 10-year playoff drought unfortunately meant that this was the first playoff hockey hockey for many fans. And with the transition to a new generation with Rod Brind’Amour as the coach, Justin Williams as the captain and a core of young players, the series win replaces past hope and promises that were crushed with a much-needed, massive dose of hockey fun.
As far as specific memories go, the rousing 5-0 game 3 win will forever be a Canes classic. With the return of playoff hockey after ten years, the electric atmosphere in the building and the fun result, that game could have served as the cherry on top of a great season even if the Hurricanes had lost in five games. Every bit of Canes playoff goodness that follows is a bonus after that game. Then, the game 7 double overtime thriller after being down 2-0 early will instantly take its place among the two other great game 7 road wins over New Jersey and Boston in 2009.
As I said in the Tweet above, the improbability and sheer magic that has happened each and every time the Hurricanes have made the playoffs is utterly astounding and certainly what will make another group of Hurricanes fans become fans for life. Sharing that as a fan base and hockey community is easily the coolest thing that comes out of the team’s playoff success.
I am also thrilled for the individual players on the team. As I wrote in a past article, Justin Faulk is suddenly 27 years old and in his eighth season as a Carolina Hurricanes player without once experiencing playoff hockey before this season. He so much deserves this opportunity. And Jordan Staal came here with high hopes of experiencing success with his brother. Seven years later Eric has been gone for awhile now, and Jordan had not played a playoff game in a Hurricanes uniform with or without his brother.
Past the two elder statesman Staal and Faulk, one cannot help but be thrilled for each and every one of the players. The players invest their life in the game and make sacrifices and pay a price physically for these accomplishments that do not come easy.
This single series win has the potential to become a foundation for much bigger things be it additional success in the 2019 NHL Playoffs or the consistency that has been elusive for this franchise. A group of young players have spent the past seven months learning what it takes to win and be successful at the NHL level. And in the playoffs specifically, there is an entire generation of young players who now know what it takes to face adversity, ride the roller coaster and prevail under the bright lights of the playoffs. Regardless of how the season ends for this team, that carry forward into the 2019-20 season is priceless.
Early on, this game was on exactly the same track as the 6-0 thrashing that the team endured in game 5. The Hurricanes were slow out of the gate. The Capitals were assertive and aggressive. And they quickly turned their advantage into a 2-0 lead. At that point, the game was very much on track to be a disappointing blow out. The issues that the Hurricanes have had on the road all series sorting things out defensively reared their ugly head again. And unlike some games, Mrazek did not seem to have the ability to clean up the messes. Even past the 2-0 lead, the Capitals pushed, and as much as anything I really think one could credit the hockey gods for keeping the Hurricanes in the game through the end of the first period. Mrazek made a few good saves late, and Hurricanes did play slightly better, but the potential for the Capitals to go up 3-0 or 4-0 in the first period or early in the second period was always there.
Before the start of the second period, I Tweeted that the first five minutes of the second period would be telling. Either the Hurricanes would punch back or very likely they would be punched out. The start of the second period was not as bad as the start of the first period, but to be honest, I did not think the push back was enough. From after the Capitals went up 2-0 in the first period through the first five or six minutes of the second, the best one could really say about the Hurricanes performance was that they hung around. Though still unable to muster much offensive and still having a ‘meh’ night defensively, the puck somehow stayed out of the Canes net. The result was that the Hurricanes just needed a single scoring play to get back in the game and hopefully catch a spark. The Hurricanes finally got that when Sebastian Aho scored shorthanded at almost exactly the midway point of the second period. The play was a fairly harmless-looking one. Aho and Teravainen gained the blue line two-wide but with two defenders in decent position. Smartly, Aho seemed to shoot for a rebound and looked almost surprised when he had it land right on his stick giving him a chance for a quick finish. But less than four minutes later, the Hurricanes gave it right back when another poorly-defended rush led to an odd many chance and a snipe by Evgeny Kuznetsov. At the time, that goal made Aho’s look like fool’s gold and suggested that it just was not going to be the Canes night. But the Hurricanes responded with another scoring play from the Aho/Teravainen combination. Again, Aho used his smarts to tie up a Capitals player’s stick allowing the puck to make its way to Teravainen right between the face-off circles. Teravainen made no mistake finishing to score a huge goal late in the second period for the second time in the series. That goal sent the Hurricanes into the third period within striking distance.
When Jordan Staal scored less than three minutes into the first period, the game was knotted at 3-3 and set to be decided by a single random bounce, great play or whatever else. Even with some momentum and after counter-punching, as much as anything the Hurricanes just kept surviving in the third period. The Capitals had a good number of near misses with the most dangerous being a puck that Brock McGinn managed to whack away just inches before it crossed the goal line. The Hurricanes did have their chances too, but the third period very easily could have ended with a Capitals goal and win.
But the game that start with the Capitals dominating and then shifted back to a more even contest pivoted strongly in the Hurricanes favor in overtime. The Hurricanes young legs seemed to carry the day starting in the first overtime, and the gap in level of play just seemed to keep widening as the game wore on. The Hurricanes out-shot the Capitals by an 11-4 margin in the first overtime and a 7-2 margin in the second overtime. The situation was diciest when the Capitals received a power play in the second overtime. But once the Hurricanes survived that, the ice again tilted in their favor. Shortly thereafter, Justin Williams zipped a puck to the top of the crease that Brock McGinn deflected in. And with that, the Hurricanes had shocked the Capitals and most of the hockey world.
Player and other notes
1) Resiliency and conditioning
At the highest level, I credit the win to two things. First, unlike Saturday’s 6-0 loss, the Hurricanes managed to hang around even when things were not going well. That set the stage for the Hurricanes young legs and conditioning to decide the game. As noted above, the Hurricanes were better physically as the game wore on.
2) Brock McGinn
What a day for Brock McGinn. In addition to his usual compete level, he had the goal and probably game-saving play to save a puck that got behind Petr Mrazek. And then he finished with a game-winner.
3) Jordan Staal
He had a huge series and was the team’s best forward closing out the series win. If I had to pick a forward of the series for the Hurricanes, I would be torn on whether to give it to Warren Foegele for his leading role getting the Hurricanes back even at two games apiece or whether to give it to Jordan Staal for his rugged and determined play and timely scoring in the last two wins.
4) Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen
With Ovechkin and the Caps’ top line featuring in one of the first period Capitals tallies, the game was on track for a Capitals win and a major cause being the Capitals top players significantly out-producing the Hurricanes top scorers. Aho and Teravainen did contribute in earlier games but also saved their best for last. The duo’s scores in the second period helped the Hurricanes scratch their way back into the game.
5) Getting the band back together — Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce
When Brind’Amour went a little bit out of character and started scrambling combinations to help the team find a higher gear, one of the moves was to at least intermittently reunite Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. The old-time partners both had big games. Slavin logged a massive 38:27 of ice time and collected three assists. Pesce was right behind him with 35:22 of ice time and two assists.
6) Finding a way
One of the things that has been a stark contract to Hurricanes teams in recent years was how this team just finds a way. After playing phenomenal hockey and deserving most every win in February and early March, the Hurricanes’ level of play dipped a bit. But via some weird combination of spectacular goaltending, timely scoring and whatever else, the team just kept winning. The game 7 win very much felt like more of that. The Hurricanes were not at their best, and the game had the potential to become another Capitals blow out. But instead the Hurricanes just somehow found a way to pull out a win.
Next up is a quick turnaround for a game Friday at the Islanders followed quickly by a 3pm Sunday game less than two days later. The Hurricanes have their work cut out for them trying to rebound quickly and start anew, but might the team just continue to find a way?